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Matthew Parris's Parting Shots is a treasure trove of wit, venom and serious analysis. Up till 2006 a British Ambassador leaving his post was encouraged to write what was known as a valedictory despatch, to be circulated to a small number of influential people in government. This was the parting shot, an opportunity to offer a personal and frank view of the host country, the manners and morals of its people, their institutions, the state of their cooking and their drains. But it was also a chance to let rip at the Foreign Office itself and to look back on a career spent in the service of a sometimes ungrateful nation. Combining gems from the archives with more recent despatches obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Parting Shots sheds light on Britain's place in the world, revealing the curious cocktail of privilege and privation that makes up the life of an ambassador. 'Wonderful ... a glimpse of that lost world of private eloquence and erudite candour' Matthew d'Ancona, Evening Standard 'Unbuttoned, indiscreet and very funny' Yorkshire Post Matthew Parris had a short career in the Foreign Office where one of his tasks was to distribute incoming valedictory despatches. He was a Conservative MP from 1979 to 1986, since when he has worked as a journalist. He is the author of A Castle in Spain, Parting Shots, and A Spanish Ambassador's Suitcase. He divides his time between Derbyshire (where his old constituency was situated) and east London.
bustle and thrust: repellent because every day I am reminded of the shame of 1942. It was as a diplomatic prisoner in Japan that, on my birthday, I heard of Singapore’s surrender. Mercifully for all of us held captive in the enemy’s capital we were then too numbed and too uninformed to realise that what had taken place was not only an appalling military disaster but the most shameful disgrace in Britain’s imperial history. It was only later that we heard of the irresolution, the incompetence and
to remain entirely horizontal when he hears, as he does quite often, a German spokesman exhorting others not to forget the lessons of the ’30s. I remember Herr Scheel1 when he was Foreign Minister criticising the idea of the French force de frappe as being a Maginot Line. More recently Herr Scheel, addressing the American Congress, said that ‘totalitarianism may use arbitrary means, yet in the end freedom will triumph’. For those for whom the Nazi torch-lights still flicker in the mind’s eye, it
departments. Taken en masse this is nothing less than the nation’s memory. Not everything sees the light of day at Kew after thirty years. Some of the valedictories in this collection (notably Sir Arthur de la Mare’s from Bangkok in Chapter 1) still carry redactions many decades after they were written. Having been deemed exceptionally sensitive, this material is protected under the Public Records Act of 1958 which gave the Lord Chancellor sweeping powers to withhold information ‘with the
predictions in their valedictory were admired for it, but risked being proved wrong. Some were. We give examples in this book. Not included, however, were the remarks of our ambassador to Malawi, Sir Robin Haydon, who played it almost risibly safe when he said of the then Leader in 1973: ‘President Banda could, I believe, go on for as long as he lives or he could be assassinated tomorrow (nice easy non-prediction in a valedictory despatch – but the truth!).’ Banda in fact did go on: ruling until
towards despair. From being an organisation which was wrongly thought capable of solving everything, the UN now tends, equally wrongly, to be regarded as incapable of solving anything … … We will need however to be a bit cautious and conservative about what we ask the UN to take on in future. It needs a higher success rate than it has recently achieved if it is not to be discredited. It cannot afford more Bosnias and Somalias. So enforcement should be off limits, to be undertaken either by